Picasso, Matisse, the Model & the Studio.
“My studio is a sort of laboratory….On occasion my paintings have beauty- at least people see it in them. So much the better. But what matters is how they are created- every line that is added, the transition from one stage to another. That’s what painting is about, part poetry, part philosophy.” Picasso.1
If one wanted to follow the theme of the artist’s model in the studio over the course of a painter’s career, then one could do worse than to follow Picasso since many of his works deal with the relations of the artist to his model from his academic training in Spain to his sculpture in the latter stages of his career. In the twentieth-century Matisse rivalled Picasso’s obsession for the studio, though as Michael Fitzgerald points out “by sheer number of works Picasso exceeded Matisse.”2 After the canonical “La Vie” of the “blue period” Picasso’s fascination with the theme of the model crystallises in his 1927 set of etchings for an edition of Balzac’s seminal novella about painters and models, Le chef d’oeuvre inconnu which launched the whole genre in literature. There were thirteen etchings, a few of which show the artist drawing a model who either poses, or knits, or both.3 A number of these illustrations play with the notion of abstraction which continues in his many paintings of the artist’s studio made in the same year: for example, The Studio (1927, MOMA) completely forsakes realism- and even cubism- paring objects and figures down to essentials, though then the arabesque introduces into later pictures more ornateness, in the words of Fitzgerald, “shifting from an austere planar elegance to an ornate curvilinearity.”4 This elegantly abstract style can be seen in the dancing arabesques of Sculptor and Model (1931) (above) done in the château of Boisgeloup where Picasso surrounded himself with sculpture.5 On a more conservative note, we see from an academic nude of Picasso done in Barcelona during the summer of 1896- which shows an old man posing on a stool with his left leg on a block- that the Spanish master was quite capable of conforming where the academic model was concerned.
3The relationship between the work and the model is analysed by Hans Belting in The Invisible Masterpiece (Reaktion, 2001), 267.
4Fitzgerald, Picasso, 123.